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My mother is elderly (pushing 80) but is generally is good shape, sound mind, is able to take care of herself and live on her own and so forth. She is able to drive except at night due to her eyesight. She also has a healthy dose of paranoia to avoid scams and other situations which the elderly often fall prey to.

However, she also tends to not only be overly cautious about such things, but to also completely misread situations and come to the wrong conclusions. This is usually completely innocuous so I just smile and nod my head, but recently a situation has come up that I think I might be justified to worry about, and I am not sure how to handle it.

Recently, my mother was talking to her neighbor (they have adjacent patios), and her neighbor was telling her all about the great "security system" that her husband had installed. Somehow in the conversation the topic of phones also must have come up, because my mother said she told her neighbor what phone carrier she had. Later in the week, my mother was tethering her tablet through her phone to get to the Internet when she received a message that an unknown device had logged in as her. This was a device she had never owned and had not heard of, so she changed her password. However, she continued to experience weird behavior, such as the WiFi not turning of properly, and other things that made her believe that somebody - specifically, her neighbor - had hacked into her phone and/or tablet.

I suggested that she wipe her phone and reinstall the factory settings. At some point I also suggested that if she thought a crime had occurred that she should report it to the police, at the station if she was worried about retaliation if a squad car showed up (apparently people's cars have been keyed in the past after neighbors complained about noise to the police). She did this, but afterwards said that they didn't recognize that any crimes had occurred.

She visited the store she got her phone at and they told her it was because she had turned her Wifi hotspot on, but they (and she) did not wipe the phone. However, she kept experiencing strange behavior, and later came over to my house to discuss this due to being afraid that they could "listen in" on her conversations while she was nearby. I checked her hotspot and found that it was protected with a decent password. I also looked at the info she had received about the unknown device accessing her account, and in doing some research online found that dozens - possibly hundreds - of people have experienced this, with many of them thinking maybe they had been hacked, and the general consensus being that this is a bug that is causing the device to be misreported. The exact combination of reported device / actual device was the same as my mother's situation.

I shared this information with her, but she dismissed it, still convinced that her neighbor is spying on her. She went as far as to get rid of her smart phone and get a "dumb" phone instead, and is continuing to talk about how difficult it is to live next door to these people, how she no longer wants to talk to me on the phone while she is at her house (preferring to drive to a nearby park instead) because they might be listening to her, and apparently letting her imagination run away with her by making offhand remarks like "I wonder if they are planning to kidnap me."

Given all the information as I see it, I think she is being overly paranoid and all her fears are unfounded. But I have gently presented the evidence and mentioned things like, "It seems really unlikely that your neighbor is hacking dozens of people's phones all across the country" and "The consensus I am reading on this thread is that this is a software bug, not a hack" but she has made up her mind and I do not seem to be able to convince her. My main concern is that she is needlessly afraid and this is going to deteriorate her mental state, but I don't know how to help her. I don't know of anybody that she trusts or might listen to; I don't even really know nor have I met any of her friends or acquaintances. She would not consider seeing a doctor or other health professional. I have also considered writing to the company involved and asking for an official statement (e.g. tell her "no, you are not being hacked, this is a known bug") but given my experiences with them and the fact that they have not made any statement already despite at least half a dozen threads on the topic each with dozens of people making the claim, it seems unlikely I would receive any such response.

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    Hey user157079633, you might be best helped with finding professional help for your mother, as we are not well equipped for giving advice regarding someones mental state and considering the situation you described. You say your mother doesn't want this. But keep in mind, that asking strangers in the internet about what to do, might bring you advice that could even worsen the situation. And that being put aside, asking for a general "How to help" in such a complex given situation, is way too unspecific and is likely to be off-topic as being too broad for IPS. – dhein Nov 26 '19 at 7:50
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    Hey user157079633 and welcome to the site. I'm sorry you and your mother are experiencing this. I'll have to agree with @dhein. This sounds like a very complex situation. "How to help" is a bit too unspecific for us to help with. What exactly would you like to achieve? I think convincing your mother to see a doctor would be an answerable goal. – Belle Nov 26 '19 at 8:53
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This is unfortunate, but I have seen that it is a common problem that we have with parents who get older. When we are young, our minds are flexible enough to adjust our perceptions when we intake new information. But sometimes as we get older we gradually lose that flexibility.

I remember my grandmother, who, in her 80s, became convinced that the person who had been hired to help her in her home was stealing from her. It started when she couldn't find her purse. My mom and I went to her house and searched and we finally found the purse in her car. Then it was a brush. We argued "why would anyone want to steal your brush?" but she loved the brush and insisted that it had been stolen. Not sure if she ever found the brush, but then it was an antique bowl (my brother reminded us that he had broken the bowl years before). Then food was going missing out of the refrigerator, and so on. The helper was replaced with another, but the "thefts" continued to happen.

My father was starting to evidence the same sort of behavior just before his death. He always had a very sharp mind, but he was past his 90th birthday and I remember noticing that once he had got something in his head, he seemed to be unable to change that belief no matter what logic was presented. This just wasn't like him.

I'm no psychologist, and I'm sure they have a term for it, but I think that sometimes when our minds get older they just have less ability to adjust to changing ideas. Not as much to new ideas, but to ideas that force us to erase ideas that we have already accepted as truth. It has been my experience that you can't fix that, once it starts. No documentation, no logic, no expert witnessing is going to flip that switch. You just have to accept and to love and try to provide a cushion for them as they experience the distress of growing older.

My first advice would have been to just be supportive and try and help her deal with her delusions, but online documentation doesn't seem to agree with that, because there may be underlying health issues that need to be discovered. There's a great article at https://betterhealthwhileaging.net/6-causes-paranoia-in-aging/ with a lot of suggestions for dealing with the condition. It does agree with me in one respect; trying to use logic to convince her probably won't work.

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  • Thanks, that's a great article, but one thing it seems to assume is that the parent in question will actually go see a medical professional. My mother won't. She hasn't seen a doctor in years, she used to visit a "naturepath" when I was a kid. When I talked to her about this and asked if she was still seeing one, she said they aren't any good any more. She relies entirely on herbal treatments. – user157079633 Nov 25 '19 at 19:20
  • from a comment in the linked article, "don’t spend time reasoning with them, instead try to validate and reassure as best you can"... that's a good place I'll try to start. – user157079633 Nov 25 '19 at 19:24
  • I hope it helps. I'd recommend finding advice about how to help aging parents who won't help themselves. It is sad, but eventually decisions regarding your mother's care and life may have to be taken out of her hands. I had three grandparents who lived to their nineties, and two of the three had to be institutionalized because of their deteriorating mental condition. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Nov 25 '19 at 19:29

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